ROCKLAND — A South Thomaston woman accused of strangling and beating an 83-year-old woman to death in her Owls Head home is expected to plead not guilty by reason of insanity.

Sarah Richards, 37, pleaded not guilty in Knox County Superior Court on May 28 to murder and theft in connection with Helen Carver’s slaying on Feb. 21.

Sarah Richards appears in Knox County Superior Court earlier this year. Stephen Betts/The Courier-Gazette

The defense and prosecution held a telephone conference Thursday with Justice Bruce Mallonee. Richards’ attorney, Jeremy Pratt, confirmed that his client would enter a plea of not criminally responsible by reason of insanity at a hearing scheduled for Wednesday.

After the plea is entered, the state will request a forensic evaluation on Richards. Pratt declined to say whether the defense has had her mental condition evaluated.

The case would likely then go to trial, at which the jury would first determine whether Richards committed the killing. If the jury finds her guilty, it would then be asked to determine whether she is criminally responsible.

The trial is expected to be held in August 2020, Pratt said.

Richards was indicted on March 5, and has been held without bail at the Knox County Jail in Rockland since her arrest on Feb. 22, the day after Carver was killed.

An affidavit filed by Maine State Police this year said that Richards had stopped at the home of her ex-husband, either Feb. 20 or Feb. 21, and asked him “if he would be willing to kill someone.”

The man told police he thought she was kidding, but then realized after he learned about Carver’s death that he had no doubt that Richards was asking him if he would be willing to take part in killing Carver.

Carver’s son, Robert Carver, had talked with his mother by telephone shortly before 11 a.m. on Feb. 21, and in the conversation she told her son that Richards had stolen her debit card.

The Knox County Sheriff’s Office confirmed that the Owls Head woman had contacted the office on Feb. 14 about the theft. A Knox County deputy had contacted Richards and was scheduled to interview her on Feb. 22.

Witness reports said that Richards and her boyfriend were seen leaving the area of Carver’s home about 11:30 a.m. on Feb. 21, the police affidavit said.

Carver’s son found his mother dead in the home shortly after 1 p.m. on Feb. 21, after he was unable to reach her again by phone. Carver lived alone at her South Shore Drive home after her husband died.

Richards initially told police that she had been at the house to shovel snow and went inside and Carver was in good shape when she left, the affidavit said. She later changed her story and said she went inside and Carver was already dead. Richards said she provided lifesaving efforts and left, police said.

Richards then said when she went inside the house, Carver was upset over the stolen debit card and that the elderly woman “came at her.” Richards said she then lunged at Carver and tackled her into an entertainment center. Richards also admitted to striking Carver in the head with a tool. The type of tool is not spelled out in the police report, but police obtained a warrant from the court to examine a shovel that Richards owned for any signs of blood.

Richards said she put her hands around Carver’s neck to determine if she had a pulse. The affidavit says that the Medical Examiner’s Office determined the cause of death as blunt force trauma with signs of strangulation.

Richards has a long criminal record. She was convicted of stealing more than 100 lobster crates from Fox Island Lobster in Cushing in 2013. She had worked at the business.

She received a nine-month jail term in 2016 for unlawful trafficking in drugs. In June 2017, she was sentenced to 30 days in jail for violating her probation for the prior drug conviction.

She was charged with theft in 2012 by Waldoboro police. In 2013, she served seven days in jail for violating a condition of release.

In 2006, Richards was sentenced to five days in jail for violating probation for illegal importation of drugs. In 2004, she was sentenced to 48 hours in jail for theft.

Murder carries a minimum mandatory sentence of 25 years in prison in Maine.

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